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Trendwatch 2013: A Mid-Year Assessment

Obviously I can’t read everything in a given year for the kiddos.  Someday SOMEDAY this will change. I shall sit upon a velvet cushion while faithful servants serve me peeled grapes as I devour all the books published in the current year.  And I’ll have a pony!  I mean, while we’re dreaming.

In the meantime I just read bunches of bunches and then make my fellow NYPL children’s librarians read different bunches of bunches.  That way we cover everything pretty well.  The result, though, is that you start noticing weirdo trends.  Trends that no one else would necessarily spot unless they were in the same business.  Here then are some of the odder trends we’ve identified in children’s fiction for the publishing year of 2013:

Victorian England: No surprises there.  I think it was Cassandra Clare who once pointed out that there’s something wonderful about an era that has railroads and plumbing but no telephones.  It’s always been a haven of the middle grade authors and for a time there was a bit of steampunky nonsense that went along with it.  This year that’s abated a tad, but we’ve noticed that there are two distinct Victorian categories that defy logic or explanation.

Victorian Trend #1: Mudlarks

How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks

Freaks by Kieran Larwood

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson

Specifically, mudlarks that are minding their own business, traipsing into the disgusting Thames, when they are inexplicably grabbed and sucked down into the muck by some kind of monster.  The grabbing part may not be the case for the Hopkinson title (haven’t read it quite yet) but it’s certainly true for the Jinks and Larwood titles.  I don’t know that I’d even heard the term “mudlark” before this year either.  Now I can’t get away from it.  For the record, I highly recommend the Jinks title.  Now that they’ve given it a proper book jacket (the one on the galley was lamentable) I expect it’ll have some fans.

Victorian Trend #2: Freak Shows

Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones

Freaks by Kieran Larwood

Larwood has the distinction of combining freak shows AND mudlarks together.  Get yer money’s worth this way.  I suppose including Fusco is a bit cheap since Bee is only threatened with a future in her carnival’s freak show, and it’s historical but not Victorian, but she does interact with the denizens to some extent, so I’m including it.  Of these three I highly recommend Wild Boy.  Yes, it is the second book this year with this title (the other being a nonfiction title by Mary Losure that was, somewhat oddly, also published by Candlewick in 2013) but it deserves notice.  Call it Furry Sherlock Holmes.  Sure the villain is glaringly obvious, but maybe just to adults.


Kids Named Early

Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Fine.  It’s just two books.  But what are the chances of that, eh?  Points to Balliett for not putting Early’s name in the title, by the way.  Whenever I see an author do that I am reminded of the Janet Jackson film Poetic Justice which, yes, was about a poet . . . named Justice.  You see the problem.

Contemporary Jewish Kid Characters Where Their Religion is Not the Point

Strike Three, You’re Dead by Josh Berk

Mira in the Present Tense by Sita Brahmachari

Aces Wild by Erica S. Perl

The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors

The Short Seller by Elissa Brent Weissman

Seriously, this is a rare thing.  A friend of mine used to say that if you walked into a children’s library without any prior knowledge you might easily believe that all Jewish people disappeared after the Holocaust.  So a book where someone’s Jewish and it’s not the focus of the book?  Almost unheard of.  By the way, it’s fun to go through these books and to figure out how the authors casually work this info in.

Fairytales and Folktales

We are seeing a record breaking number of folktales and fairytales coming out in the year 2013, folks.  While poetry and graphic novels are down far lower than I like, small publishers have picked up the ball where the big publishers have fallen down.  Right now I’m looking at at least forty-four decent titles (which I plan on releasing on this blog at the end of the year).  This is almost unprecedented.  Particularly when you compare it to the twenty-eight poetry books I’ve seen.

There are other odd trends, as well of course.  Raccoons are seeing a distinct upsurge this year.  Sasquatches are doing nicely.  But all in all these are my favorites.  And feel free to tell me other books in these categories I may have missed.  I love this kind of stuff.  Keeps me young.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Ghosts…seems like they are everywhere: Jonathan Stroud’s THE SCREAMING STAIRCASE, Gareth Jones’ CONSTABLE AND TROOP, Tom McNeal’s FAR FAR AWAY, Susan Cooper’s GHOSTHAWK, Tim Tingle’s HOW I BECAME A GHOST…

  2. Swear to you Terry Pratchett bears much of the responsibility for the mudlarks. If the word “tosharoon” appears, it seals it. His book, arguably YA, “Dodger” came out this year, and the title character’s … you guessed it … a mudlark. But the whole subject came up In “The Truth” in 2000 — plenty of time for people to be intrigued and start researching. (Dickens, of course, covered ’em, too.)

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      True enough. Dodger was last year, of course. Dang that I didn’t mention it. But “tosharoon” is a marvelous word. Worth building a novel around.

  3. Cathy Potter says:

    Sloths! I’ve seen a couple of sloth books this year including Lost Sloth and A Little Book of Sloth.

  4. Another trend (or maybe more accurately, theme) I’ve noticed–a search for the missing: One Came Home ( a sister); Navigating Early (a brother); Hold Fast (a father); A Tangle of Knots (a suitcase!); Jinx (a talent)–I could go on!

  5. Huz-ZAH to the Jewish kids. It is still my someday hope that you can someday read books about others where their ethnicity is not the point as well –

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Hmm. There are one or two this year, but overall it’s pretty bleak. I should make a new list.

  6. I’m very excited about the contemporary Jewish characters trend! The lack of these characters has been one of my ongoing laments — I started looking for them when I was a Jewish kid! I’m looking forward to reading these.

  7. Thanks for this! Victorian England is also (thankfully for those of us who can’t get enough of this period) appearing in a number of adult books, including a recent mystery called The Yard. Also good is Ripper Street, a British crime series.

    And, because I can’t help myself — here are some nonfiction recommendations for anyone fascinated by mudlarks. To learn what life was like for real mudlarks, I recommend Henry Mayhew’s LONDON LABOUR AND THE LONDON POOR, a fascinating mid-19th study of the lives of the working poor based on interviews Mayhew conducted. For an excellent treatment of mudlarks and their role in the ecosystem of London, Steven Johnson’s THE GHOST MAP, about Dr. John Snow (1813-1858), is excellent (and inspired my book). Also good is THE GREAT STINK, which chronicles Joseph Bazalgette’s amazing achievement in creating a sewer system for London.

    I guess you could say that there IS a monster in The Great Trouble. It is cholera, which, despite Dr. John Snow’s pioneering work in public health, has not disappeared in 2013, the 200th anniversary of his birth.

  8. Sherri T. says:

    It was released in November 2012 but “Will Sparrow’s Road” by Karen Cushman would definitely fall under the Victorian Freak Show trend.


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